Last year was iOS's time to shine with a sparkly new interface. In 2014 it's OS X that gets the facelift. Apple has released OS X Yosemite, or OS X v10.10, to be more precise, and with it comes a large number of visual improvements and usability improvements that make OS X better than ever.
Each year millions of Mac users walk into Apple Stores around the world to buy their first Mac — about half the people who buy a Mac are new to the platform, according to Apple. But many of those people have already been informed about the Apple user experience through their use of iOS devices — iPads, iPhones and iPod touches.
So it makes a lot of sense for Apple to align the visual interface of OS X more consistently with iOS 7 and iOS 8 than it has in the past. It's a less abrupt transition for those millions of new Mac users, and it's a more uniform user experience throughout.
Regardless, OS X has its own identity — after all, the Mac preceded the iPhone by almost two and a half decades, and OS X itself was nearly a decade old when the iPhone came on the scene. So retaining what makes a Mac a Mac was very important to Apple, and they've done well with Yosemite.
But producing a flatter, cleaner design for Yosemite was only the starting point for Apple. Apple has traded on the synergy between OS X and iOS in the past, borrowing interface elements and features from one to add to the other over time. This time around, they're fundamentally erasing the barriers between the operating systems where it makes sense to do so.
"Continuity" is the buzzword Apple has come up with to describe making the transition from iOS to OS X more seamless than ever. And it extends to messaging, file transfer, voice communication and more.
OS X Yosemite now allows you to make and receive phone calls on your Mac using your iPhone as the conduit. You can do the same with SMS and MMS messages, making it much more easy to stay in touch with those friends and colleagues who aren't part of the iMessage ecosystem. And it's easier than ever to pick up where you left off when composing an email or a new document, regardless of what device you're using.
Continuity also extends to areas like personal hotspot tethering, making it easier than ever to use your iPhone as your connection to the Internet on your Mac. AirDrop, which up to now has been segregated to iOS and OS X use exclusively, now works fluidly between iOS 8 and Yosemite.
"Extensibility" is another area that Apple's emphasized. While extensions have made their biggest splash in iOS 8 — you can now do things like add new keyboards, for example — the same sort of technology has practical applications in OS X, to make it easier to share content with social media and between different applications and to improve your workflow.
One seriously weak point of OS X Mavericks' early releases were the Mail application — it didn't play well with Gmail and had some stability problems that made some Mac owners wondering why they'd bothered to upgrade to begin with. Apple's gone back to basics with Mail in Yosemite and this time around it isn't nearly as troubled, plus it has some cool new features like Markup, which makes it easy to add graphics and text to file enclosures; and Mail Drop, which uses iCloud as a way to send very large file enclosures that might otherwise choke a mail server.
Safari gets loads of new features in its 8.0 release in Yosemite, with improved private browsing, support for the more privacy-friendly DuckDuckGo search engine, native Netflix web video support and more. iTunes gets a Yosemite makeover, too, and Messages adds some great new features like Soundbites - sound file snippets that make it easy to record your voice and attach to an iMessage.
All told, Apple's done a lot to make Yosemite a better-looking and more easy-to-use operating system, with an emphasis on improving your workflow to make you more productive: Spend less time searching for tools to help you, and more time just getting things done.
The original OS X interface was named "aqua" and called "lick-able". It featured buttons that looked like gumdrops and windows that sprung from the dock like genii. Also, pin-stripes.
It was a bold, beautiful new beginning, but it was very much a new beginning. Some awkward years followed, including forays into brushed metal, stitched leather, and linen. Yet there were good years too. Sane years. Snow Leopard and Mavericks years that matured the interface, and made it more consistent, if less colorful.
Yosemite isn't the evolution of either Snow Leopard or Mavericks, nor is it the revolution of iOS 7. It catches up to the iPhone and iPad design language but it also takes it forward even while pulling it back.
There's plenty new here, but there's also a remarkable restraint. Yosemite isn't built on a physics or particle engine. There's nothing bouncing or colliding. But it is flatter, cleaner, and more coherent than what's come before.
Flatness, or the eschewing of rich textures for solid colors, is the prevailing trend in modern interface design. Some believe it to be digitally more authentic. Others as a sign that we, as a collective, have matured beyond the need for skeuomorphic cues and affordances. Still others see flatness as massive missteps when it comes to both design and usability.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum, Apple is falling just short of totally flat. Gone are the gumdrop style buttons, and the last of the green felt has been left by curb. Yet instead of solid colors, yet get subtle gradients. We have clean windows that still drop shadows. We have clear sidebars that blur the background behind them, and streamlined tool bars that blurs the content beneath them. Combined, they minimize distraction but still provide a sense of placement and personalization.
The colors from your wallpaper show through. The photos and icons and documents from your files show through. As much as it breaks up the window and seems odd at first, it can also tie everything from the desktop to the folder grid together.
Because OS X is a multi-window environment, that shadows remain helps visually separate and stack different apps. It's one of the ways Yosemite is less extreme and better balanced than iOS 7 or iOS 8. It embraces the new without jettisoning what worked so well in the old.
Perhaps nowhere is that better exemplified that the dock. Where it once went from blessed 2D to faux 3D, it's now not only returned to past glory, it's done so in a newly translucent form. It really is the best of the past and the present, and hopefully a sign of what's to come from both of Apple's platforms in the future.
Yosemite doesn't just give windows and interface elements a makeover, it goes all the way down to the icons. Apple has standardized on three shapes — the rounded square, the circle, and the tilted rounded rectangle. Oh, and a new, shiny, translucent trash can.
The rounded square is used for system-related apps. That includes not only the new, happier, even slightly more embossed Finder, but the new System Preferences as well.
The circle is used for content-focused apps, like iBooks, the App Store, Safari and the new, red, iOS-Music-app-matching iTunes.
The tilted round rectangle is used for traditional apps, especially productivity apps, like Mail, Calendar, TextEdit, and Preview, often with a smaller icon at the bottom left to better hint and functionality, like a stamp for Mail, a pen for TextEdit, and a magnifier for Preview. It's no longer in perspective, but it does have depth.
There are a ton of exceptions, of course. Time Machine is round and Maps is tilted, to name but two. In general, however, the new look makes for a new feeling — a more ordered and organized one.
Still, Apple designers are Apple designers, and that means the icons are still filled with great colors, amazing details, and even small touches like a subtle reflection effect on the metallic icons, blues and oranges as though they were situated in the environment of Yosemite itself.
For those who want to keep focus on active windows and tasks at hand, Apple is also minimizing the potential distractions of menu bars and menus by introducing a "dark mode".
As you'd expect, dark mode changes the menu bar and drop down menus themselves to a deep, translucent, charcoal gray reminiscent of some of Apple's pro-apps past.
Dark mode looks good enough that even people who don't care about distractions might want to try it out.
Lucida Grande has been the OS X system font for as long as there's been a system a font. It was perfect for an era of lower resolution displays and subpixel antialiasing. Yet now we live in the era of Retina.
With iOS 7, Apple switched not to their own, custom font for iPhone and iPad, but to Helvetica Neue. With OS X they're doing the same for the Mac.
It doesn't have the personality of Lucida Grande, or of a custom Apple font, but it looks great on high density displays, and it even looks fine on older Macs with standard displays.
More importantly, it looks consistent with iPhones and iPads, which means anyone considering a Mac as their next computer will feel even more at home with OS X. And that's a feature.
Yes, OS X Yosemite's new design language isn't perfect, but it's lightyears ahead of where it was, and arguably iOS could learn a lesson or two from where it is now.
Notification Center, Today View, and Widgets
With a new look and new functionality, Notification Center has been overhauled in OS X Yosemite. There's an entirely new view mode that gives you today's items at a glance, plus widgets that will extend Notification Center's functionality even further.
Notification Center has been a fixture of the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch since iOS 5 was released in 2011, providing a unified method for displaying alerts from various applications. In 2012 Apple brought Notification Center to OS X, providing a uniform location for apps to post alerts. Notification Center's actual utility in OS X was very limited.
It wouldn't be until Mavericks debuted in 2013 before Apple revealed plans to enhance Notification Center in OS X. Mavericks Notification Center added interactivity, making it markedly more useful, not only compared to Mountain Lion but even compared to its iOS 7 counterpart.
OS X users gained the ability to actually interact with applications as they notified you. Receive a message in Messages, for example, and you can reply right in the notification. The same with Mail. You can also delete messages. Someone's trying to FaceTime you? Respond back with an iMessage to let them know you can't right now.
With OS X Yosemite, Apple's continuing its track of innovating new features in Notification Center for OS X. They're adding a new Today view, which gives you a calendar at a glance and other helpful features. Notification Center also employs a dark interface that Apple is favoring in some applications, along with the translucency effect that adds some depth to the interface.
The Today view is activated when you click the Notification Center button in the menu. It shows your daily calendar at a glance and offers you instant notification of upcoming meetings. Reminders are listed, and social media links let you post instantly to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Messages.
Items in the Today view are interactive. Clicking on any of them yields more information: clicking on an event on your calendar opens up the Calendar app so you can view more details; you can check off Reminders to complete them; clicking on the Weather item yields the entire day's forecast hour by hour.
But there's more to it, as well.
See the Edit button at the bottom of the Today view? You can now customize Notification Center with new features and functionality.
Notification Center supports widgets — micro-applications developed by Apple include a world clock, stock tracking application and calculator. The widgets themselves are available as add-ons from third-party applications in the Mac App Store.
You can control basic Notification Center operations from the Notifications system preference. You can still activate Do Not Disturb, determine what circumstances will keep Notification Center from activating, and adjust the ways that specific apps can notify you from there.
Notification Center in OS X went from a push notification gathering annoyance in Mountain Lion to a truly useful interactive feature in Mavericks. Now Apple's taking the next step in Yosemite by making Notification Center an extensible interface for third-party developers. That, combined with the handy new Today view, make Notification Center even more useful and helpful to your workflow than before.
iCloud Drive has had a troubled launch. Some early iOS 8 adopters converted their iCloud accounts to iCloud Drive without realizing the feature wasn't supported in iOS 7 or on OS X Mavericks (a point Apple made clear before the conversion process, but one that some missed). And others converted without realizing that it'd be a month between the launch of iOS 8 and Yosemite. Regardless, iCloud Drive is here now and it's time to start getting used to it.
iCloud Drive brings simplified file sharing to iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite with better top-to-bottom integration than other products like Dropbox. iCloud Drive is a file sharing service that works in the cloud — iCloud, as the name implies.
Files are visible on your Mac and your iOS device, and can be manipulated on the Mac by simple drag and drop. You can also create files using iCloud-aware apps on your iOS 8 device.
iCloud Drive appears on your Mac just like any other drive or service: it's listed in the Favorites sidebar; clicking on the icon will open the iCloud Drive folder. Inside the folder are documents and other folders, each containing the files you've put there. From your Mac you can store any file on iCloud Drive you want to, in whatever folder structure you want, and you can access them from your Mac, iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad running iOS 8.
To move a file into the cloud you simply drag them into the iCloud Drive from the Finder. You can also create a new document using an iCloud-enabled app on your iOS device; those files are then stored in their own folders on iCloud Drive.
Smoothing the rough edges out of file sync
For years iOS users have begged Apple to provide some sort of visible file system for iOS, to make it easier to move documents between applications and to do more with those files. While iOS 8 won't have a visible file system, iCloud Drive does solve a big problem: the "siloing" of documents that can only be opened by their respective applications. While it's short of a real file system, iCloud Drive enables apps in iOS to open other documents, to make it easier to import content.
Where does iCloud Drive leave services like Dropbox? If you've been using Dropbox or another service as a way of synchronizing files between your Mac and iOS devices, iCloud Drive is bound to be a better and more efficient way of managing that ability.
Apple's made iCloud Drive work on PCs, too - as long as you can log in to your iCloud account, your iCloud Drive will show up. But where iCloud Drive stops short of being a full-on Dropbox replacement is that there's no iCloud Drive client for PCs, so you can't go forth with full on file sharing as you can with Dropbox. At least not yet.
Handoff is a major element of Yosemite's "integration" theme. With it, Apple is promising to transparently, seamlessly move whatever activity you're doing to whatever device you want to continue doing it with. It's a person-centric choice and a bold one.
In order for Handoff to work you have to be logged into the same Apple ID on you iPhone or iPad as you are on your Mac. That's how Handoff knows those devices all belong to the same person — you. Since your Apple ID is also used for iCloud backup and restore, iMessage and FaceTime, iCloud email and perhaps even your iTunes purchases, it's a safe, reliable way to make sure you're really you and your devices are really your devices.
Being logged into the same Apple ID also means that, if you have documents stored on iCloud, they're available on all your devices already, so Handoff doesn't have to waste time and power pushing files around. It only has to push your current activity. (More on that later.)
Handoff also requires that your iPhone or iPad, and Mac be within close proximity to each other. Devices are automatically paired via Bluetooth LE (Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy) when they come into range and activities are made available for Handoff for as long as they stay within that range.
Enforcing proximity is a good idea and one in keeping with Handoff's person-centric approach. It prevents private websites you're visiting, emails or messages you're composing, or documents you're working on from accidentally getting pulled over to a machine that's logged into your account, but at another location where it's not within your physical control. For example, if you're working at home, you don't need your stuff popping up on a device at school, or if you're at the coffee shop, you don't need it popping up on your work computer.
Proximity allows for both convenience and privacy, the best of both worlds.
Handoff will work Mail, Safari, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Maps, Messages, Reminders, Calendar, and Contacts.
That means you can start composing or reading an email or web site, editing a document, spreadsheet or keynote, finding a location, typing a text, picking a reminder, entering an appointment, or looking up an address on your Mac and continue or finish it on your iPhone or iPad, or vice versa.
Apple hasn't yet announced any Handoff functionality for media, for example starting an iTunes playlist on your Mac and continuing it with the iTunes Music app, or starting a game on your iPhone and continuing mid-level on your iPad. Nor have they announced any Handoff features that would let you, for example, push a movie from the Apple TV to the iPad if you wanted to change rooms. (The reverse of AirPlay, which has to start on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac.)
It's still early days, however, and every new feature has to start somewhere.
Apple has provided application programming interfaces (API) to developers so that third party Mac apps can also take advantage of Handoff. Developers need to specify which discreet actions are available to Handoff — precise activities like composing a tweet or reading an RSS item — and the apps involved all have to be owned by the same developer Team ID. That makes things secure for customers, so we don't have to worry about one app trying to intercept activity from another.
Handoff-capable apps also have to be made available through the Mac App Store or signed by a registered developer. Again, that allows for security, and even a degree of flexibility.
Handoff doesn't only work between apps but also between websites and apps. For example, if you're reading Facebook.com on Safari on your Mac, and then pick up your iPhone to leave the room — assuming the developers have implemented it — the Facebook app will show up to accept the handoff.
Apple has provided APIs so that developers can prove they own their websites and apps, and that they're all related to each other. That secures both endpoints of the transaction.
To move to the browser, Handoff sends a URL (universal resource locator) from the originating device to the device where you want to resume your activity. Open the browser, load the URL, and you're right where you left off.
To move to a native app, activities specified on the website are sent over to the appropriate location in the associated app. Open the Facebook app, load the page you were looking at, and you're likewise where you left off.
Apple also says developers can bi-directionally stream between two open instances of the same app on two different devices. That allows for continuous interaction, including read and write, between the original and current device. For example, so both devices to be used to work on the same activity at the same time.
How developers — and Apple — will make use of such streams remains to be seen...
Handoff is based on actions. When an app or browser is launched, brought back to the foreground, or tabs are switched, Handoff identifies the current actions you're doing — composing an email, reading a particular web page, editing a Pages document, etc. — and starts to broadcast that activity.
Other devices within proximity identify the activity and call up the appropriate icon for it.
On the iPhone or iPad the icon is placed either on the bottom left of the Lock screen or, if the device is unlocked, to the left of the Home screen in the multitasking card interface (the one you get to by double clicking the Home button.)
On the Mac the icon is placed either to the left of the Dock or to the right of the application switcher (the one you get by hitting CMD + Tab.)
Once the icon is hit, Handoff will request the activity from the originating device. If you're using Documents in the Cloud, only the state needs to be transferred. If you're on the web, only the URL. Otherwise, whatever you're working on will get sent across. Once any necessary data is passed (presumably over direct Wi-Fi connection), you're taken to the app and your activity is resumed right where you left off.
For example, if you were composing an email on your iPhone and you walked within range of your Mac, the Mail.app icon would appear in a new segment to the left of your OS X Dock. Click on it and you'd be in OS X Mail, in the compose window, with the same email open and ready for you to finish, right where you left off.
If you were working on a Keynote on your Mac and you picked up your iPad, you'd see the Keynote app icon to the bottom left of your Lock screen. Hit it and you'd be taken to the Keynote app on the iPad, the same document open to the same slide you'd just been working on.
Handoff promises a fundamentally different approach to computing than Microsoft's "Windows Everywhere" or Google's "everything in the cloud". With Handoff, there's no convergence of interface or single truth kept on a server. Apple is keeping the Mac the Mac, and the iPhone and iPad the iPhone and iPad. They simply all integrate together so that your activities can go from device to device transparently, seamlessly, wherever you go.
AirDrop started off on OS X Lion back in 2011. It used Bonjour (zero config) and personal area networking (PAN) to discover and transfer files between Macs, and eventually made its way from the Finder to the Share menu and Open/Save dialogs. Where it didn't find its way was on to iOS.
At least not until iOS 7.
When AirDrop did come to iOS, however, it came in name only. The protocol itself was significantly different. With no Finder in iOS, AirDrop existed only in the Share sheet. Instead of Bonjour and PAN, it used Bluetooth LE and direct Wi-Fi to transfer data. It was an incredibly secure implementation but it wasn't compatible with the older version on OS X.
At least not until iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite.
OS X AirDrop, like iOS before it, now uses Bluetooth LE for discovery and direct Wi-Fi for transfer. That's really the best of both worlds, as you get the low-energy savings of BT LE for the connection and the race-to-sleep efficiency of Wi-Fi for the transfer. (Apple hasn't released any security information yet, but if they've maintained the security model it will be similarly terrific.)
Between iOS devices nothing changes, of course.
Between iPhone or iPad and Mac, when the iOS device is unlocked it'll show up as an AirDrop target in the OS X Finder and the Save option in the menu. OS X devices show up just like iOS devices on the iPhone or iPad.
Between Macs it works similar to how it did in the past but you have an optional checkbox to "AirDrop with Older Macs".
This means that no matter where you have a piece of data, be it a photo, contact, or anything else shareable at all, you can move it directly between all your Apple devices with just a couple taps or clicks.
Tethering from an iPhone or iPad cellular to a Mac or iPad Wi-Fi has always been a bit of a pain. Some of that has been carriers and their cockamamie tethering plans. But some of it has always been the process which, at the best of times, required a password to be entered, and at the worst required off/on toggles or reboots to get it working consistently.
Now your Mac or iPad Wi-Fi can instantly connect to your iPhone or iPad cellular and you can be up and using the internet in no time.
Instant Tethering works when you're logged into both your iPhone or iPad + Cellular and your Mac with the same Apple ID. Then, your iPhone or iPad + Cellular will simply appear as an option in your available Wi-Fi network connections list, distinguished with Apple's linked-ring tethering icon. Connection type (e.g. LTE) and battery level will also be displayed on the Mac.
So, regardless of whether your iPhone or iPad cellular is sitting right in front of you, or is across the room in a bag, there's no password to enter, no toggles to flip, no devices to reboot. Just tap/click, connect, surf.
Again, AirDrop and tethering aren't new features they're new implementations of pre-existing features. They may lack the impact of Handoff or call/SMS/MMS Continuity, but they solve really usability problems for real people. Apple is sometimes accused of spotlighting a feature one year only to forget about it the next. By looping AirDrop and tethering into Continuity Apple not only brings them back into the spotlight but makes them better than ever before. Hopefully this is just the beginning of that trend.
iPhones have cellular radios that connect to the carrier voice networks. That's what lets the take and make calls. Macs can make calls using Voice Over IP (VoIP) software like FaceTime or Skype, but they haven't been able to make traditional phone calls. At least not until Yosemite.
Apple has some experience transiting calls between services. For example, you could always switch from a carrier voice call to FaceTime, even mid-call, without missing a beat. The same sort of savvy is now being applied between carrier voice calls and the Mac, but instead of just switching, you're able to answer and initiate calls as well.
So, if your iPhone is across the room and you hear it ring, you don't have to get up and sprint for it. As long as you're logged into the same Apple ID and on the same Wi-Fi network, you can take it right on your Mac.
Your Apple ID is used to ensure that your phone calls can only ever be made or taken on your devices. The Wi-Fi network not only allows for the transport, but makes it highly likely your devices are in your possession, or at least in your vicinity, which likewise keeps your calls personal and secure.
When your iPhone rings, Continuity can show you the name and number of whose calling on your iPad or Mac. It works just like the call display you're used to (provided you have call display service from your carrier and the identity information is available). Also, just like your iPhone, if the caller is in your contacts you'll see your contact picture for that caller, making them instantly recognizable even at a glance.
And just like on your iPhone, you can swipe the incoming call notification on your iPad, or click it on your Mac, to answer. Of course, if you're giving some big fancy keynote or are likewise busy and can't answer, you can choose to ignore the call, or even to respond with an iMessage or SMS message to let the caller know you'll get back to them ASAP. (Presumably, if you ignore the call on your iPad or Mac, it will get sent to voicemail, if available, on your iPhone.)
Making calls from your iPad or Mac is just as easy as receiving them. Any time you have a phone number in the built-in Contacts app, Calendar app, or Safari web browser, tapping or clicking on it will give you the option to call. Choose it and your call will be placed using the Wi-Fi connection to your iPhone, and your iPhone's connection to the telephone network.
Once a call is connected you'll see a time indicator — useful if you're counting local or long distance minutes — and you'll be told the call is "using your iPhone". Right below that is a sound wave just to add some visual flare.
You'll also get additional options, similar to what you get now on the iPhone. You can switch to a FaceTime video call, in which case the traditional telephone call is ended and the FaceTime call seamlessly connected in its place. You can also choose to mute the call so you can speak freely without the person on the other end hearing what you're saying, and end the call when you're done.
Apple hasn't shown off relay for conference calls, however, starting off simply and adding functionality over time is a cornerstone of their approach. The point being, this is a beginning, not an ending.
The original iPhone shipped with an SMS (short messaging service) app. It was an ugly system that had been retrofitted for cross-carrier compatibility and had almost nothing in the way of modern messaging features. But it worked on pretty much all phones pretty much all of the time, even if cellular data — which was limited to EDGE on the first iPhone — was spotty or non-existent. In other words, it was the original cross-platform mobile instant messenger.
Apple didn't even offer MMS (multi-media messaging service) at first. The iPhone was an internet communicator and that meant it had real, rich, HTML email, so why even offer MMS? Turns out people wanted to be able to send picture and video messages to their family, friends, and colleagues who weren't using iPhones but did have MMS. So, within a couple years, Apple added MMS.
Carriers charged a fortune for SMS/MMS. When iMessage shipped as part of iOS 5 and OS X Lion, Apple sought to solve many of those problems. It offered reply-state notification, similar to BlackBerry's BBM, could handle all sorts of data types, similar to MMS, and used Wi-Fi or cellular data for its transmissions, so it didn't require an extra texting plan. At least not if you were talking to other Apple users.
Like the lack of MMS before it, it was that last part that caused friction. Being able to iMessage from an iPad or iPod touch or Mac is fantastic, unless we have a friend, family member, or colleague using what Apple calls a "lesser device" — an Android phone, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, or feature phone. For anyone not on an iPhone, those "green bubbles" simply didn't exist, and the seamless nature of the iMessage experience was broken.
That, the seamlessness of the messaging experience, is what Continuity fixes.
Like with call relay (see above), to use SMS/MMS relay, you have to be logged into the same Apple ID and on the same Wi-Fi network. That helps insure security and privacy.
Receiving SMS and MMS on your Mac is easy. Green bubbles simply appear in the standard Messages app alongside the blue ones, same as they've always done in the iPhone Messages app.
To send an SMS or MMS from your Mac, just go to Safari, Calendar, or Contacts, pick a number, and choose to send a message. The conversation will likewise start, or continue, in the same Messages app.
All of it will simply be sent from your Mac, to your iPhone, and out over the carrier SMS/MMS system, just like any other text or multi-media message.
SMS and MMS might be old technologies but they're still popular technologies. More importantly, with iMessage remaining exclusive to Apple devices, they're the only cross-platform messaging system built-into the iPhone, and one that didn't previously exist on the iPad or Mac. That made for an incomplete experience.
Apple's current business model means we're probably not going to see iMessage for Android or Windows or the web any time soon, nor are third-party messengers like WhatsApp or Skype ever going to enjoy built-in status. That again leaves SMS and MMS.
And that means, thanks to Yosemite, as long as Mac customers also have an iPhone anywhere in the room or the vicinity, they get the same SMS and MMS access on those devices that they get on the phone itself. That absolutely fits Apple's business model of making the sum worth more than the value of the individual parts.
Spotlight is looks different and acts differently in Yosemite. It's no longer a passive search tool that just looks at file names and the content of files, then shunts you off to other apps if you need more help. Spotlight in Yosemite has been utterly reworked to be a very powerful information-finding tool that helps you get the data you need and act on it. So, how does it work?
Spotlight's greater prominence as a search tool earns it greater prominence on the Yosemite screen. Clicking on the Spotlight icon in the menu bar, or hitting CMD + Space, yields a search bar in the middle of the screen, instead of a pop-down field that hangs from the menu bar in Mavericks.
A larger type face makes it easier to enter search terms, and a new search window shows you scrollable previews of your search results.
Expanded (and intermediated) search
In Mavericks, Spotlight pushes you to your web browser to search the web and Wikipedia. In Yosemite, Spotlight integrates those results directly into its summary window, saving you a step. Wikipedia entries are shown as a summary with a thumbnail image; if you want more details, an embedded link will open the page in your browser when you click on it.
Spotlight also links to Apple's Maps data. Entering an address will yield an embedded map with options for directions and other information. Apple also noted integration with Microsoft's Bing search engine, but that functionality appears missing in the first developer preview release that Apple offered at WWDC.
Interested in a movie that's now playing in theaters? Type in the name of the movie and you'll see a summary with a movie poster, links to trailers and even links to showtimes near you.
You can also ask Spotlight to do calculations and conversions. It's not quite as complete in the WWDC build as the actual Calculator application, but you can enter simple arithmetic or measurement units and Spotlight will yield results on the fly.
Third-party developers have certainly filled in Spotlight's gaps over the years, and when Apple showed off the new features of Spotlight, some users of Running With Crayons' Alfred noticed some similarities right away, such as quick Web searches, map searches and more. In the same token, Objective Development's LaunchBar and Stranded Design's Quicksilver both help Mac users find content quickly and easily with just a few keystrokes.
When Apple introduced its third iteration of the Sherlock search tool — Spotlight's distant predecessor — it focused on web search instead of local search, as previous versions had done. Apple was accused of copying the concept wholesale from Karelia Software's Watson, which offered similar functionality. Ever since then, the term "Sherlocking" has existed to describe what happens when Apple incorporates a feature into OS X that had previously been supported by an independent developer.
In truth, Apple hasn't "Sherlocked" any of these apps with the new Spotlight. Each of them has features and functionality unique to themselves, and it'll be up to the individual developers to continue to differentiate their products to appeal to customers.
Apple has evolved Spotlight from a simple file search tool to something much more robust — a general search tool. It's doing the work of several applications you already depend on, like your web browser, the Maps application and others. But Spotlight isn't replacing them. Instead, it's layering on top of them, providing you with a front-line interface to get at the information you need to get things done.
Apple had to mend fences after Mavericks was released. It was launched with a half-baked e-mail app that caused endless problems for Gmail users, and it took a while to sort. Yosemite e-mail is better, and new features make it easier to use.
Back to the fundamentals
Apple hasn't apologized for how much of a disaster Mail is in Mavericks, but the message was apparent at the WWDC 2014 keynote.
"...we really focused on the basics," said Apple SVP of software engineering Craig Federighi at the WWDC keynote. "Reliable syncing, fast switching between mailboxes, quick fetches of your new mail, the basics."
In other words, everything that Mavericks Mail managed to screw up. Thank goodness.
I'll reserve final judgment for later, but I will say that Yosemite Mail is snappier than before and less prone to many of the problems I'm accustomed to in Mavericks, so on balance I'd say it's a welcome change.
Like other Apple applications in Yosemite, Mail has gotten a facelift to conform to the Yosemite look and feel. Typography is clearer, with translucency added to the Mailboxes sidebar.
There aren't any major changes to Mail's layout in this new release, just some enhancements here and there for clarity and simplicity. You'll now see a round profile image appear to the right of the sender's e-mail address. If no profile image is available, Mail displays their initials instead.
Mail has always made it easy to attach documents, but Apple's taking it one step further by introducing a new feature in Yosemite called Markup. Markup makes it possible to do exactly that — mark up the files you attach in mail.
What's more, Markup sports a magnifying loupe, so you can draw attention to a specific portion of the attached document by zooming in. You can also draw shapes like arrows, and circles, which Markup will automatically try to straighten and neaten up. You also have the ability to draw shapes and add text annotations, and fill out PDF file attachments, complete with signature.
Markup isn't doing anything that you can't do already with apps like Napkin or Skitch, which may leave some concerned that Apple is once again pushing out third party developers with this new feature. But Napkin and Skitch are standalone apps that enable you to mark up images. Markup is embedded as a feature of Mail, which limits its overall utility as a markup tool.
One of the biggest pain points with mail use is attaching files. Internet service providers and e-mail providers often put restrictions on the maximum size of file attachments to keep their servers from getting clogged up with pictures of people's kids and videos of graduation processions. Apple's created Mail Drop in Yosemite to help fix that problem.
Mail Drop shunts off the collection and retrieval of file attachments to iCloud, making it possible to attach much larger files than you ever could before — up to 5 GB at a whack.
As far as other Apple Mail users are concerned, it's business as usual: Apple's made the process transparent, so you'll still see the file enclosure attached just like you always have.
But if you're using a different Mail client, or if you're on a PC or another computer, you'll see the attachment as a text link. Clicking on it will then retrieve the file.
While there are a number of web browsers available for OS X, only one is included: Safari. That makes Safari an incredibly important application for Apple, because it's one of the first things Mac users will use, and for many of us, it's the only web browser we use. So Safari is getting some big improvements in OS X Yosemite, both to usability and to performance.
Streamlined toolbar and "smart search field"
The first thing you'll notice in Safari is a new, streamlined smart search field that's been integrated directly into the title bar. That provides more room below for actual web content.
That design has found its way into other Apple applications in Yosemite, like Calendar and Maps. The menu bar contains previous page and next page buttons, a button to activate the Sidebar, a Share button, Show all tabs button, and Show downloads button.
Safari now follows its mobile version's convention in iOS of masking the URL: Only the root URL of the web page is displayed, rather than the complete thing. For example, looking at this page in Safari on Yosemite will only show you "imore.com" in the search field, until you click in the field, then the full URL is revealed.
What makes it a "smart search field" is Safari's integration with Spotlight. Now as you type in a search term, Safari drops down hits in Spotlight including links to Wikipedia, to make it easier to find what you're looking for.
Another behavior inherited from Mobile Safari - Clicking in the search field reveals a dropdown menu containing thumbnails of favorite web pages, along with frequently visited sites. As a result, the Favorites bar is gone by default, though you can resurrect it with a keystroke.
In Mavericks, Safari had an "iCloud Tabs" button that showed you tabs shared between your Mac and iOS devices. Now iCloud tabs are visible in that dropdown menu as well.
Tabbed browsing has been greatly improved in Safari, too. You can have an unlimited number of tabs open, and navigating through them is as easy as just clicking back and forth.
What's more, there's a new Tabs button on the menu that enables you to view all open tabs at a glance. Clicking on the button yields a new window that pops up thumbnails of all of your open tabs a la Mission Control; simply click the tab you want to make that page active.
Sharing content from Safari is easier in Yosemite than it was before. The Share button has been revamped to include new functionality. Right off the bat, AirDrop is supported (and just a reminder, AirDrop actually works between Yosemite and iOS 8 now). But Apple's paved the way for further enhancements that won't require Safari to be reworked.
A new "Recent Recipients" list at the bottom of the Share menu shows people who you've recently emailed or messaged, so you can more quickly share content with them.
A new "More..." menu option brings you to the Extensions system preference. Extensions in Yosemite enable third-party developers to add new features and functionality to the operating system.
Extensions has a dedicated entry for the Share menu, so as social media sites and other services provide sharing extensions, you'll be able to add them to simplify the process of sharing your content with others.
There are some times when you may not be comfortable generating a web page history or letting cookies get installed, such as when you're doing online banking or looking at personal content you'd rather not see tracked (yeah, and porn too). That's where Private Browsing comes in handy.
Safari pioneered the concept of Private Browsing — when it's enabled, no data is recorded about that session. Cookies aren't stored, web pages aren't added to the history list, names of downloads are removed from the Downloads window, Autofill information isn't saved and searches are not added to the search field's pop-up menu.
But Private Browsing in Safari has, up to now, been inconvenient for one reason: it's either all on or all off. You can't set up one window with Private Browsing while still using other windows normally. Set up Private Browsing in one window and open another to visit Facebook and see what happens: You'll have to sign in again, because Safari isn't remembering your user ID and password.
In Yosemite Safari that all changes. New Private Window is how private sessions are handled now. What happens in the new private window stays in the new private window, but you can have other sessions open normally with no ill effects. A long overdue improvement. What's more, that private window can support its own series of tabs, all of which stay private too.
If privacy is important to you, you should also be aware that Safari in Yosemite adds support for DuckDuckGo, a popular new search engine that doesn't track your search queries. Just go to Search under Preferences to set Safari to use DuckDuckGo as the default search tool.
As I said at the outset, Safari is an incredibly important app for Apple, because it's the web browser most Mac users depend on, and it's a showcase app. So Apple's really dug into the guts of it to eke out the best performance possible. To that end, they've made a number of improvements to performance that yield even snappier results than you have now.
The net result of using this, rather than Silverlight, is twofold: You're less dependent on a Microsoft plug-in technology, and streaming Netflix on your Yosemite-equipped Mac is more efficient than before: Apple estimates up to two hours of more battery life on a MacBook Air, watching a 1080p HD movie from Netflix. That's a big improvement.
Safari demonstrates a core philosophy Apple's employing across Yosemite: To reduce pain points or user interface awkwardness for people whose primary experience using Apple products has been iOS. Changes like the drop-down Favorites menu will be immediately familiar to iOS users.
The new functionality is also welcome. Private browsing in Safari is way more convenient than it was before, and the Share menu's link into Extensions promises a lot more social networking integration than was ever possible. The improved performance and efficiency, especially for video content, will be welcome for anyone running Yosemite from a laptop.
Along with OS X Yosemite is a new version of iTunes: iTunes 12 is included with the package. iTunes 12 reworks not just the way you listen to music but also the way you interact on the App Store, so it's kind of a big deal.
Let's get something out of the way right off the bat: iTunes is still the bloated, convoluted monster that many of us know and loathe. (I complained about iTunes more than a year ago and haven't changed my opinion.) It still does too much for one application, managing your apps, your devices, all your media and various and sundry other things.
The first change you notice is the iTunes icon itself: iTunes goes red with version 12, with a new icon that reflects Yosemite's flatter aesthetic.
iTunes 12's entire interface moves in a direction consistent with Yosemite — Apple's integrated a new flatter interface for the app, with revised typography that makes it fit in better with the Yosemite motif.
The sidebar showing your library, iTunes store, shared libraries and more is gone. In its place is a small row of icons underneath the play controls that serve the same function. (You can customize what features are available via a single click on the navigation bar.) This frees up more space in iTunes' main window to actually show you the content you're listening to, watching and downloading.
As before, the navigation bar changes contextually depending on what content you're viewing; you'll see "My Music," "Playlist," "Match," "Radio" and "iTunes Store" options when viewing music, but if you switch to movies, it'll show you "My Movies," "Unwatched," "Playlist" and "iTunes Store" instead.
If you spend a lot of time in the Apps or iTunes Stores, you'll notice a number of changes subtle and not-so-subtle. Three dimensional embellishments are gone, with the flatter, cleaner interface of iOS 7 and 8 and Yosemite grabbing hold here. There's no rotating carousel of 3D cards that pop into view with featured content at the top of the page, anymore — instead there's a flat banner with ostensibly the same content. Yosemite's cleaner typography is used throughout.
It's an experience that's more consistent with the iTunes Store on iOS devices, for better or worse, though the layout and interface is still thoroughly optimized for the computer.
One notable omission is iBooks. iTunes 11 gave you an easy way to access the iBook Store, but that's been pulled from the iTunes 12 all together. From here on out, if you want iBooks, you'll need to open the iBooks app and access the store from there.
Most of iTunes 12's changes are subtle, but they're enough to keep the app consistent with the rest of the theme presented in Yosemite. Given how loudly some iTunes users complained when Apple presented interface changes in iTunes 11, I won't be surprised if iTunes 12 elicits more complaints, but on balance the usability changes are pretty mild this time around — let's hope they're better received than last time.
OS X Yosemite makes key improvements to Messages to help enhance productivity and make it easier to communicate. Among the improvements in this update are soundbites, compact audio files you can record with the click of a button and include in your iMessage; SMS/MMS support through the iPhone; and group messaging. Let's take a look at the new features.
Sometimes it's just easier to tell someone something than it is to write it down. To that end Soundbites can help; this new addition of Yosemite lets you add quick audio clips to your messages.
Soundbites don't replace Voice over IP, Skype or any other streaming audio technology; they're just supplemental files that can be sent between iMessage accounts, either to Mac or iOS device users.
Soundbites are trivial to use: Just click the microphone button, record your message and it will be sent. You can either keep the message (by clicking on a "Keep" button) or let it expire after a couple of minutes, so your chat log doesn't fill up with audio files.
No need (and no way to) customize the audio; the Mac takes care of all that for you, and sends it to the recipient. The soundbites themselves are sent encoded as .amr files. Adaptive Multi Rate is an audio compression format optimized for speech recording; it's not high fidelity, but it gets the job done and it's compact.
You've long been able to include audio files on your iMessages, but it's relied on having an external app to record the audio, which you then have to save as a separate file and then click and drag into the iMessage to send. Soundbites simplifies the process down to a couple of clicks, making it infinitely easier for everyone to use.
iMessage and SMS/MMS
OS X's Messages apps is a handy tool if you're trying to communicate with other iMessage users on Macs and OS X, or if your messaging takes place on one of the other services that the Messages app supports (like Google Talk, Jabber, Yahoo or AOL Instant Message).
Where Messages on OS X has failed, however, is to keep us in touch with the many people who rely on their non-iOS mobile devices as an instant messaging tool. Short Message Service (SMS) and Multimedia Message Service (MMS) reign supreme on those devices. Since that messaging is managed through the wireless carrier, Messages on OS X hasn't been useful to stay in touch with the people Craig Federighi cheekily called "our green bubble friends" at WWDC 2014.
That changes with Yosemite thanks to Apple's Handoff technology, which blurs the line between the Mac and iOS devices. With Yosemite on the Mac and iOS 8.1 installed on your iPhone, you can see SMS and MMS messages you're getting from non-iPhone using colleagues, and what's more, you can send them too.
Both the Mac and the iPhone need to be on within physical proximity to each other, and both must be signed in using the same Apple ID. But once they are, new messages you get on your phone will now show up on your Mac as well, even if the person isn't an iMessage user.
Group messaging gets some big improvements in Yosemite — it's now much easier to manage them, thanks to the inclusion of a new "Details" button in the upper right hand corner of the chat window.
Now it's possible to give your chat a title, helping to (hopefully) direct participants to stay somewhat on topic, so chats don't veer off wildly into unexpected territory. What's more, you can mute notifications for the chat, so if you're carrying on a group conversation but don't want to be distracted temporarily (say you're in a meeting or on a call), you can silence the chat and pick up later when you're ready.
You can add new participants as you go along, and what's more, you can even remove yourself from the chat entirely, if you're done.
The Details control panel also gives you other handy tools — like using Find My iPhone, if it's turned on, so you can see the location of the people you're chatting with. Participants can share their screens with one another. You can review images and files that have been transfered in chat. And that's also where you can mute notifications if you don't want to be bothered for a bit.
Apple's taken a mostly iterative approach to Messages in Yosemite, making key improvements to help reduce user discomfort with features like improved group messaging and soundbites. One feature stands out above the rest, though, and that's Handoff.
Handoff blurs the line between Mac and iOS device, making it possible for you to use both devices together in elegant, intuitive ways that you can't do alone. With the ability to make and take phone calls now present as well, the iPhone just may be the killer app to help improve productivity on the Mac.
Photos (Next year)
Photos for Mac will arrive sometime early next year. However, it's important for people using iPhoto and Aperture to understand what's happening.
First and foremost, both iPhoto and Aperture will continue to work on Yosemite for the foreseeable future. Both will still be available in the Mac App Store. Existing iPhoto and Aperture libraries will all still open, and existing iPhoto and Aperture tools will continue to function.
Next year, after the new Photos app for Mac is released, Apple will remove iPhoto and Aperture from the Mac App Store. You'll still be able to keep and run your old copies, but Apple will no longer be updating or improving them. And, at some point in the future, they'll be outdated enough you'll want to move on.
When Photos ships, you'll be able to migrate your existing Aperture library to the new Photos app for Mac. When you migrate, all your albums, folders, keywords, and captions will move from Aperture to Photos. All the non-destructive edits you've applied to your Aperture photos will be preserved in Photos, and preserved non-destructively. Likewise, if you use iPhoto, you'll be able to migrate your library over to the new Photos app as well. (Aperture and iPhoto libraries are already compatible, and have been shareable since versions 3.3 and 9.3 respectively.)
It'll be a big change, but a necessary one. iPhoto and Aperture are, by modern standards, old apps. They were built in an era before iOS and before iCloud and while they've had some interface and compatibility layers bolted on, they were never rebooted the way iMovie and Final Cut Pro were in terms of interface, or Pages, Numbers, and Keynote were in terms of compatibility. Not until now.
With Photos, Apple is saying pictures and video — our memories — are so important they're going to make them an integral part of iOS, OS X, and iCloud at the system level. They're going to make Photos not just an app but a service for everyone on every Apple device.
Hundreds of millions of people own an iPhone, iPod touch, and/or an iPad. Increasingly, more and more of them own a Mac as well. Apple wants to make sure that anyone with both an iOS device and a Mac gets a seamless experience with their photos, same as they already get with everything from their iCloud mail to their iTunes music to their iWork documents.
To accomplish all this, Apple is introducing iCloud Photo Library. Built on their new CloudKit service, iCloud Photo Library will make sure every picture and video you take, import, save, or otherwise bring into Photos is synced to all of your Apple devices, including iCloud.com, along with its organizational information and any and all non-destructive edits you've applied to it.
What's more, all your pictures and videos will be stored (and backed up) on Apple's servers, at full resolution, in its original format — including RAW. Apple is using "nearline storage" for this, so the most recently added and accessed pictures and videos are kept locally, optionally at device-optimized resolution, and immediately available to you. Older and less frequently accessed pictures and videos are kept online so they don't end up consuming all your local storage, but can be re-downloaded quickly any time you want them.
Think about it as a hybrid drive, but instead of HD/SSD fusion, it's local/cloud fusion. It's concept that's been employed in data management for years, and it's something Apple's been doing for music for a while with iTunes Match. While it might not sound as important on the Mac as it does on smaller capacity iPhones and iPads, MacBooks are mobile devices too. A MacBook Air starts at 128GB of SSD storage, so photo library size matters on OS X as well.
With Apple bringing Photos to the Mac, and with the eventual retirement of iPhoto and Aperture to follow, some level of concern is inevitable. For casual photographers Photos will almost certainly end up being a better, more consistent, more approachable app to use than anything that's come before. For professional photographers, however, the answer won't be as clear.
Just like when iWork was relaunched with compatibility between iOS, OS X, and iCloud, some features were lost. A few of those, including major ones, have since been added back. Extensibility support might take the edge off. Developers could come up with extensions that not only fill gaps but add entirely new capabilities. However, while Photos will likely end up being better for the vast majority of people, it may not end up being better suited for everyone, no more than iPhoto or Aperture are today.
OS X Yosemite: The Bottom Line
Yosemite National Park is one of the most spectacular natural settings in the United States — a place filled with gargantuan granite cliffs, waterfalls, groves of Giant Sequoia trees, wildlife and more. It's a gorgeous, stately place and an inspiring location for Apple to use as OS X 10.10's namesake.
In some ways, it's a curious choice for Apple: OS X Yosemite's cleaner lines and flatter presentation doesn't evoke grandeur: It's more workmanlike. It's more down to business. But that's rather the whole point: Getting the interface to get out of the way to help you get things done.
OS X has been in continuous evolution since 1999, when the first release of Mac OS X Server hit the market. In the intervening years much has changed, but the core experience of using the Mac remains consistent: It wouldn't be too hard for someone who has only used a Mac circa 1999 (or circa 1984, for that matter) to pick up and use a Mac circa 2014.
Yosemite represents the first substantial rework of OS X's core interface elements since the Aqua interface was unveiled in 2000. The flatter, cleaner look complements iOS 8. It also modernizes the Mac user experience, paving the way for the next decade of improvements.
Obviously there will be growing pains. Apps will need to be updated to take advantage of Yosemite's interface changes and new APIs. And it'll take a little bit for Yosemite and iOS 8 to get in lockstep with each other, for all Handoff and Continuity features to work as well.
For years, Mac stalwarts have eyed iOS and its increasing dominance suspiciously: The "iOS-ification" of OS X has been lamented every time a feature or interface embellishment comes floating over from the iPhone or the iPad. More than anything, OS X Yosemite shows that Apple is listening: OS X remains distinct and unique, an operating system clearly designed for a computer and not a touch device.
There's a difference between assimilation and integration, however: While OS X is in no danger of being assimilated by iOS, OS X is certainly integrating with it.
With Yosemite, Apple's articulating a powerful message for the future: You can get more from your Mac with an iPhone than you can without it. iOS and OS X together can be greater than the sum of their individual parts.
Serenity Caldwell, Ally Kazmucha, and Derek Kessler contributed to this review.
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